Featured Image: The Milky Way’s X

X-shaped bulge

The X-shaped bulge is even more evident in this image, wherein a simple exponential disk model has been subtracted off. [Adapted from Ness & Lang 2016]

This contrast-enhanced image of the Milky Way, observed by the Wide-Field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE), clearly reveals that the bulge of stars at the center of our galaxy is shaped like a large “X”. The boxy nature of the Milky Way’s bulge was revealed by satellite image in 1995, but in recent years, star counts along the line of sight toward the bulge have suggested that the bulge may be X-shaped. It was unclear whether this apparent morphology was due to the difference in the distributions of different stellar populations, or if the actual physical structure of the bulge was X-shaped. But these new WISE images, produced by astronomers Melissa Ness (Max Planck Institute for Astronomy) and Dustin Lang (University of Toronto and University of Waterloo), now provide firm evidence that the Milky Way’s bulge actually is X-shaped, supplying clues as to how our galaxy’s center may have formed. This morphology is not uncommon; observations of other barred galaxies reveal similar X-shaped profiles. To learn more, check out the paper below!

Citation

Melissa Ness and Dustin Lang 2016 AJ 152 14. doi:10.3847/0004-6256/152/1/14

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